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Farms facing possible labour delays




Daniel Pearce


The swine flu outbreak in Mexico is causing uncertainty on area farms that depend on migrant workers from that country to plant their crops.

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Simoncoe Reformer

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The swine flu outbreak in Mexico is causing uncertainty on area farms that depend on migrant workers from that country to plant their crops.

An estimated 1,800 Mexicans are brought to Norfolk County every year to work mainly in the fruit and vegetable sector.

In an effort to stop the spread of the virus, Ottawa has said it will do more careful medical screening of migrant workers before they are allowed to board planes in Mexico for Canada.

But nobody knows for sure if that will mean delays in getting workers here -- and getting crops in the ground.

"For us, it's pretty crucial," said Eric Chanyi of Shabatura Farms north of Simcoe, who is expecting 15 Mexicans to arrive next week. "We can't have a delay. This is planting season."

Shabatura Farms, which produces strawberries, sweet corn, peppers, and cabbage, employs up to 90 Mexicans a year.

Most of them are "regulars" who come up every year. "The ones we have coming are all loyal employees for us," he said.

Chanyi said he hopes the farm won't have to "switch countries" and hire workers from, say, Jamaica, a process that would involve retraining.

Ken Porteous, a Waterford area fruit grower and vice-chair of the Foreign Agriculture Resources Management Service -- which organizes the offshore labour program in the province -- said at this point he doubts there will be delays in workers arriving.

"The way I understand it, (doctors in Mexico) will check their temperature and give them a physical. That shouldn't be a concern to me."

The outbreak of swine flu has killed at least 152 people in Mexico and has sickened others in the U.S., Europe, and Canada.

Fears are mounting this could be the beginning of a worldwide pandemic and governments are taking precautions to try to lessen its spread.

Canadian officials have announced a travel advisory for Mexico, meaning it is recommending people not go there unless it's absolutely necessary.

Some tour operators are allowing customers to rebook Mexican vacations to other locations without penalty, said Gail Lightfoot of the Carlson Wagonlit Travel in downtown Simcoe.

"We haven't had anyone cancel or change," said Lightfoot. "We've been very fortunate."

Kate Stratford of Marlin Travel in Simcoe said if the advisory had been issued a couple of months ago, at the height of the winter vacation market, the impact "would have been brutal. Tourism to Mexico is huge."

The uncertainty of where the outbreak is headed is hitting agriculture the hardest.

The Ontario Pork Producers is asking Ottawa to rename the virus and call it the North American Influenza in order to avoid stigmatizing pork products.

"When this type of story hits, everybody hears about it," said Mary Jane Quinn, a spokesperson for the organization. "It could affect consumer purchasing behaviour."


Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers

Content types

Policy analysis and Documented cases of abuse

Target groups

Public awareness

Geographical focuses

Canada, Ontario, Alberta, México, Manitoba, Quebec, British Columbia, Other provinces, Federal, Nova Scotia, and National relevance